Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Multitasking Hurts Learning

I wrote once about my dislike of multitasking so this article gave me satisfaction.

Extracts from
Multitasking Hurts Learning
Distractions Alter the Brain's Learning Processes
by Jennifer Warner for WebMD Medical News - July 26, 2006

Multitasking may make you more productive, but it also makes it harder for your brain to learn, according to a new study.

Researchers found people had a harder time learning new things when their brains were distracted by something else, like talking or listening to music.

"When distractions force you to pay less attention to what you are doing, you don't learn as well as if you had paid full attention," says researcher Russell Poldrack, PhD, and UCLA associate professor of psychology, in a news release. "Even if you learn while multitasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized so you cannot retrieve the information as easily."

Poldrack says distractions appear to affect the brain's learning processes, and tasks that require more attention -- like learning calculus or reading Shakespeare -- are particularly hampered.

[The study's] results showed that multitasking didn't reduce the accuracy of the predictions immediately, but it did hurt participants' ability to remember knowledge about the task later.

The fMRIs showed that when the participants learned without distraction, an area of the brain known as the hippocampus was involved. This part of the brain is critical to the processing and storing of information.

But when they learned the task while multitasking, the hippocampus was not engaged. Instead, an area called the striatum was activated. The striatum is involved in learning new skills like riding a bicycle.

Multitasking when performing certain tasks -- like listening to music while exercising -- may be helpful. But Poldrack says tasks that distract you while you try to learn something new are likely to negatively affect your learning.

"The best thing you can do to improve your memory is to pay attention to the things you want to remember," says Poldrack.

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At 11:54 PM, Anonymous Atul said...

I've read that short term memory loss can occur with too much multi-tasking so I'm not even sure it makes us more productive. The part you mention about not being able to learn as well makes sense too. I have a feeling that our required multi-tasking on the job causes us have tendencies of those with A.D.D.


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